When the news broke earlier in the year that Canterbury University academic Anne-Marie Brady’s house and office had been broken into, and that the only things taken seemed to relate specifically to her longrunning research work on the People’s Republic of China, the initial response from the government didn’t seem too bad.
Ardern said at the post-Cabinet press conference on Monday that “everyone would be concerned” if Brady had been targeted because of her academic work.
“If there’s evidence of that, we should be taking stock and taking action,” Ardern said. “I will certainly ask some questions.
“I would certainly want to be informed if there was evidence that this was a targeted action against someone who was raising issues around foreign interference.”
Brady herself was impressed (although I think I thought – and perhaps wrote – at the time that these comments seemed more designed to encourage the Prime Minister, rather than accurately describing any evidence to date of taking foreign interference “very seriously’).
“I am very heartened to see the Prime Minister is taking the issue of foreign interference activities in New Zealand very seriously and that she has instructed the security agencies to look into the break-ins I have experienced,” Brady said.
The story has been back in the media again thanks to the persistent efforts of Matt Nippert of the Herald. Last weekend there was his widely-viewed (and linked to abroad) article “The curious case of the burgled professor”, and this morning the front page of the Herald has the story “SIS sweeps prof’s office“.
Electronic surveillance specialists from the Security Intelligence Service have carried out a search for listening devices at the University of Canterbury office of the professor revealed to be a possible target of Chinese espionage.
News of the sweep, confirmed by several university staff, comes as academic colleagues of Anne-Marie Brady came out in support of the China specialist….
The Herald understands a similar search for bugs by the Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS) has also been conducted at Brady’s Christchurch home, the site of another suspicious burglary being investigated by authorities.
From what is reported in that story, and in Radio New Zealand’s interview this morning with Anne-Marie Brady, the Police and the SIS seem to be doing a pretty thorough job. Brady herself praises what she has seen and heard of their efforts.
But what of the Prime Minister? Remember that this is the “leader” of whom Matt Nippert has reported
She won’t talk about the general issue, and here she is (quoted in Nippert’s article this morning) on the specific one.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, asked about the case on Monday at her post-Cabinet press briefing, said she had yet to be briefed on whether the episode could be attributed to China.
“I have not received any further advice on that, but nor have I sought it. As it were, nothing has since been raised with me to suggest that it was, or wasn’t,” she said.
“Speaking more generally, what the underlying suggestion here is of foreign interference. I’ve been very, very cautious around always stipulating that New Zealand needs to be live to general issues of interference, and that’s something we keep a watching brief on.”
She hasn’t asked. How convenient. If she were really concerned about the issue, and the potential, you’d have thought she – and her office – would be all over an issue of this sort (as a matter of sovereignty, national security, defence of academic freedom etc, not as “interfering” in a potential criminal prosecution).
And as for that final paragraph, if that is “leadership” we’ve lost all sense of how a leader might actually act or speak. Of course she probably isn’t in a position to make specific accusations – especially not having asked for the information – but what would have been so wrong about a clear and strong statement that she, and New Zealanders, would deplore and push back strongly against any foreign interference in New Zealand, and in particular if agents of a foreign power were found to have been responsible for the Brady break-ins. She could even have gone on to say that if such evidence were found then – even if it were not possible to launch criminal prosecutions (after all, we don’t have an extradition treaty with China) – the damage to our bilateral relationship with such a country would be severe.
Instead we get this vacuous waffle
I’ve been very, very cautious around always stipulating that New Zealand needs to be live to general issues of interference, and that’s something we keep a watching brief on.
saying precisely nothing, from someone who appears to desperately hopes to avoid the issue. Her response here is much weaker than her February one.
Does the Prime Minister stand for academic freedom in New Zealand, for the rights and freedoms of New Zealanders to do research, to speak out, to challenge other countries here in New Zealand, the rights of New Zealanders to be secure in their homes? “Stand for” in the sense of being willing to pay a price to protect and defend? Or is she more interested in doing everything possible to be able to look the other way, prioritising party fundraising, trade agreements, the interests of a few big corporates (and universities) and visits to Beijing over the values and freedoms of New Zealanders, including those like Professor Brady who’ve done in-depth research on PRC efforts here?
She, her party president, and their peers in the National Party together.